Constantine: The Devil’s Vinyl



I told you I was doing the entire series, didn’t I? I know it’s not Monday yet but I’m just not prepared to wait that long. So here we go - another Constantine review, organised under three headings. Hold my tea, it’s time for:

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Constantine series 1 episode 3!



Deserving

Where do we start with this one? Why not Jasmine, the woman who made the contract in the first place, with the ambulance chaser in the hospital. Did she deserve to have her contract end and her soul sent to Hell? Yes. Oh don’t look at me like that - she knew what she was doing and she signed it anyway. I’m not judging her for it, I’m just saying, she understood completely what she was getting into. The fact that it was for the whole ‘I’ll gladly sell my soul if it gets rid of my husband’s cancer’ thing is unfair, but so’s life. The fact that she wasn’t the one trying to get out of the contract was interesting - and a nice twist to bring in a favourite ‘villain’ of the comics - but that’s for later.

She segues us into Bernie - and mate, when someone tells you not to listen to a record, YOU DON’T LISTEN TO A RECORD, so yeah, he deserved what he got. Yes, if he hadn’t done it we wouldn’t have had a climax to the episode teaser and John wouldn’t have had anyone to question later. But still, Bernie - judging you.

How about Zed? Does she deserve to be trusted yet? She helped John gain access to the morgue (like he wouldn’t have picked someone’s pocket himself five minutes after she’d done it), she found Moonrise Records in about three seconds on Google where John was seriously considering going to a library. She smacked a dude over the head before he could knife John. She knows and uses American SIgn Language to get the actual story of what happened at the crime scene. Everything she does seem to come from a position of wanting to help - but why? Is she really that compassionate or is she trying to atone for something? John doesn’t seem to be totally on board with her yet; she invites herself along on the case and his reply is a dour “Knock yourself out, MacDuff”. Does this mean he’s expecting Zed to find out what he’s really about and harm him?

Matt Ryan deserves an Emmy. I’m just going to say it now and get it out of the way. There, I feel better already.

History

We had a few points of insight here - we meet Bernie the record producer. Why is this important? John shares something about himself with Zed: “Back in Jurassic time I fronted a punk band called Mucus Membrane. Yeah, that’s right - I wasn’t always an upstanding warlock. Bernie here produced our first and only record. He tried his best, but… to tell you the truth we were just a bunch of wankers trying to get laid.” We get one of John’s mates, dead, and him a little unsettled by it - but this is ‘first friend dead’. How many more will we see over the series? Well I’ve seen it, so I already know, but basically the death toll is more Hellblazer and less Star Trek.

The singer set down in acetate for future generations to be haunted by was called Willie Cole. How close this was to the legend of Robert Johnson, the real-life blue singer who may or may not have ‘sold his soul’ to the devil, we will never know. Those of you who’ve watched the Supernatural episode Crossroad Blues will be familiar with the rumoured tale of Robert Johnson; he was a pretty good harmonica player but a terrible blue guitar player. He was alleged to have gone to a crossroads and sought the help of the devil, who promised him ten years of expert guitarmanship before he would return and claim his soul as payment. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Johnson actually died of syphilis, or of being caught by a jealous husband. But then the Faustian myth is much more exciting, innit? This episode draws on this and makes you think you know what’s behind it all - until it shows you that it’s not.

Papa Midnite, then. It seems him and John have something of a professional history, even if they don’t appear to have met face to face before. John describes him as a voodoo priest, and seems to have a good idea what the man is capable of. Papa Midnite knows John by reputation, it appears. And the two of them clearly don’t like each other, much less trust one another. Something of a departure from the comics, but then, this is set early on in John’s sordid career, so perhaps we’re looking at how they came to be wary of each other. Nice.

Quotes

Yes, I’m going to shoe-horn a few in here. Quick-fire comebacks that characters slip under the radar they may be, but one of the reasons I like this show is the way they’re not waving their arms and being as cool-as-shit as possible about everything. We don’t get slow-mo moments, we don’t get Hollywood glossy action scenes, but we do get Johnesque lip and backchat:

Chas: “Let’s say hi to his Satanic Majesty.” [They get inside and John is naked, covered only in blood, learning a new spell.]

You’re going to have to respect my boundaries. I don’t do zip-ties without a safe-word.

[As John is tied down and left to die - and then it starts to rain:] “Yeah, great. Why not.

When Manny the angel appears to speak to John, but of course, not get ‘involved’ and actually help him:] “Cut me loose and I’ll show you - you celestial wank.” “ Next time I see him I’m going to punch him.

[Zed orders them to go do the next act; Chas says they should follow her. John isn’t so sure:] “Alright but we don’t have to just jump when she says.” Beat. “Ok that’s long enough; let’s go.”

So what’s the verdict on the episode? Solid, made sense, tied up loose ends, gave us something to think about before the next show. Zed is starting to eclipse Chas in her usefulness to John, and if they’re not careful, I am going to like her just as much as John himself. She’s not pushy, she’s not in your face ‘feisty’, she just quietly gets shit done. Every show should have a Zed. This episode gets a steady eight of ten, for setting us up with new characters, for doing established characters right, and for giving us a good twisty story whilst showcasing some of Matt Ryan’s best reaction faces.

And there we have it, folks. Thanks for reading, and if you’ve taken part in any of the Save Constantine activities at all recently or repeatedly, then I thank you from the heart of my bottom. We need a season 2, and I’m not stopping with the voting and petitioning and e-mailing until we get one, on any network.

Peach and lube, everyone. Peach and frelling lube.

Constantine: The Darkness Beneath



Yes, it’s Monday night again (amazing how fast it comes around) - so you know what’s coming next. Yes, it’s another Constantine rewatch and review! Tonight it’s episode 2: The Darkness Beneath. So hey-ho, let’s go with a three-word, three-theme review.

Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Constantine series 1 episode 2!




Misdirection

Ah, where do we start? How about the opening, with pretty much the Big Bad taking control right at the outset to kill a bloke who obviously bullies his wife. Her fear of him is palpable, and we’re made to feel sorry for her. Later on we find out exactly how much she didn’t miss him when he was gone, and the change in her behaviour, and appearance, are subtle but excellent background touches.

The episode title itself may or may not be a misdirection; there is certainly something nasty under the town, but it’s something dark that comes up to kill. So is this the ‘rising darkness’ that Manny was talking about last week in the pilot episode? Time will tell.

More misdirection comes along when, at the house after what I assume is a town gathering out of shared misery, the missus makes a move on John just when he’s trying to pick up clues from the scene of the crime. He tries to let her down gently and escape but it all kicks off - she’s a vindictive one, that woman. And I’m already worried; John’s not good at fights. He gets in a few good shots but he’s floored pretty easily by the local mine owners. He gets right back in the bloke’s face though, like a Jack Russell that knows his unpredictability makes bigger dogs nervous. And right there was something that should have made me realise - the missus said it, right to John’s face, and he missed it as well; the key to the whole thing. But hey, no-one’s perfect, and it’s hard to be on the ball when you’re pretending to be one thing and you’re really not interested in the other.

Anyway, I love how John announces to the pub - in the middle of a wake - that it could be actual dragons killing people. No shame, not when it comes to getting people to tell him what is actually going on in the tiny Welsh mining town (and that was a nice touch, it being ‘Welsh’). He gets a whiff of an idea and off he trots to check out the mine and see if this ‘knocking’ that people are hearing is what he thinks it is. Here we get Hellblazer!John - he knocks on the mine wall, and it knocks back really bloody loudly. He shits himself and runs - who wouldn’t? Well most protagonists in modern shows. But not John. He knows which way the wind blows, and he makes sure he’s ahead of it. It seems he’s found the monster - or has he?

More misdirection: Ellis McGhee the ex-priest has a son who died - it’s him, right? It’s got to be! John is having as much trouble as Gregory House, M.D., guessing at clues in the air and putting the wrong theory together to explain them all. John guides Zed into and out of a vision, which leads them to the fallen father, and it looks like they have his number. Until it turns out, between Zed and Ellis, that John has the case upside down.

Zed

Chas is out of the picture due to an arrest warrant still out on him - a nice bit of back story slipped in there. Seemingly the next shot, Bear McCreary gives us some excellent music to accompany the woman hinted at, at the end of the pilot. She’s sitting on the floor frantically drawing to the excellent score going on around her. One corner of her drawings clearly says the artist is ‘Zed’. (At which point a million Hellblazer fans punched the air - it’s Zed! From the comics! Or is it?) She’s certainly drawing very industriously, like she has to get it all out. Spot all the Hellblazer covers - and random panes - that she has ‘drawn’ and ‘painted’ and left lying around her apartment. Nice. How many did you name?

She literally bumps into the mystery man from her visions, poor Con Job, and ably picks his pocket. She gets his driver’s licence (a suitably old UK one, which was a nice touch) and apparently info on where he’s staying in town. When John gets back to his Honeymoon Suite, he finds his pock-pocket has beaten him there, emptied his wallet of his ninety quid, and been through his rubbish bins to find his boarding passes from Atlanta to Pennsylvania. As an aside - it’s never made clear just how she managed to find where he was staying. Starting with all the buildings around where they smacked into each other, and eliminating each boarding house or hotel one by one, would have taken days. Perhaps she saw a vision - something the show hasn’t revealed she’s a victim of just yet.

When she does grab him by the arm and prove she’s a clairsentient, he makes out he’s helping her use her gift when in fact he’s using her to get more info on what happened to the dead bloke in his current case. He then does the dirty and legs it out of the window rather than take her with him - another Hellblazer move that had me grinning.

The exchange between the poor half-drunken priest at the bar and Zed was very illuminating - and certainly very welcome:

Zed: “Have you seen an Englishman? Wears a trenchcoat?
Man: “[He] stick you with the bar tab too? My advice: don’t waste yourself on that one.”
Zed: “I don’t have a choice.”
Man: “My son had that effect. When he was alive. Left behind clutches of weepy girls who swore he was the only one to give their life meaning.”
Zed: “It’s not like that.” Pause. “It’s like that but not the way you think. I mean it’s just that he means something to me. I don’t know what.”

At last - a character that wasn’t going to do the Stephen Moffat simpering girl thing and just fall at the feet of the male lead. About fucking time.

She has a face-off with John, and she doesn’t back down. She does take it in, she’s not brushing it off - she’s processing it but finding other things scarier than anything he could show her. Again, she’s got my respect. She not in-your-face ‘feisty’ or ‘firey’ or any of those things that modern writers think that ‘strong’ women are, but just a woman who’s seen a lot of shit and knows how to deal with lesser bollocks. As she tells John, she knows what she’s running from. Whatever it is must be scarier than John’s life. Which is really quite worrying.

Faith

Catching two youngsters shagging in the boarded up church apparently makes John disappointed in human nature - him, the bloke who shagged a succubus in a graveyard, and a cosmetically-reconstructed virgin on holy ground. I don’t think he has any legs to stand on here. But he does pull off a little magic and see that there is something rotten in Denmark. He doesn’t seem at all phased about the church being a holy place. Hmm.

It’s obvious that Zed has faith in something bigger than herself - and that may or may not be the ‘destiny’ that threw John in her lap that day in Heddwich. She has a fierce need of something to believe it, it seems. If John turns out to be worthy, then big things could be put into motion here. It’s exciting to watch; literally anything is possible if you put John on a case with Chas on his one side and a clairsentient on the other.

The question is, what does John have faith in? Certainly not the church, although he does employ the famous scribblings from their best-selling book when it suits him. Faith in what he knows, what he can prove, then? John and Zed race off to track down the last few people who could be a victim, if their new theory formed by ‘interrogating’ the ex-priest is correct. We get treated to a bit of SFX and the monster. Using nothing more than a reminder of what it used to be, and a quick spray painting of the alchemist’s symbol for earth, John and Zed make the ‘monster’ leave - and have the one definable clue that tells John exactly who did this.

John then drives - drives - to the Big Bad’s house and this is starting to look like one of those unfortunate Hellblazer corners that he gets himself into. John knows the villain only managed to use so much magic to use the dead for their own means because the season arc helped them. Nice bit of intersection there. But the Big Bad has forgotten who they’re dealing with - John Constantine doesn’t play if he can’t win. He gets one over on the Big Bad, and it’s all over. Well, until he has to get back to his boarding house and shower the crappy little town off him so he can leave. Who’s waiting for him? Zed, of course. She kinda lied about leaving town without him. Who wouldn’t? She has big things on her mind, concerning all kinds of reasons to believe in what he does. He just assumes she’s there for a quick shag - and that’s John all over, isn’t it? But oh no no, he’s not her type and she’s there for more important reasons:

Zed: “You see, John… I’ve been waiting for you, and you found me. I don’t know what I’ve been waiting for and you don’t know what you’ve found. The question is, are we going to help each other or not?

I like her already - almost as much as I like John, and that’s saying something. She’s quietly forceful, not passive aggressive or a ‘bitch’, but someone used to doing things by herself and getting shit done because of it. Now she’s found the man in her pictures - and her visions - she’s going to have to adapt. And force John to, as well. Which will be the fun part.

We finish on a nice wrap-up - the miners are safe, even if they’re all jobless and hopeless now that the mine is shut for good; ex-priest Ellis is back in his church, and Zed is keeping a watchful eye over a totally knackered John. Or is she? As John puts it to ease us out of the episode:

John: [voice-over] “I suppose it could be liberating to take a leap of faith, to shrug off the burden of proof for the promise of hope. It takes trust to turn darkness to light, and those who trust risk putting their faith in the wrong hands - for there are those who pray for you, and there are those who prey on you, and no matter how careful you are, sometimes you just can’t tell the difference.



It sounds like Matt Ryan enjoyed recording that voice-over, and it definitely looked like John and Zed had the right kind of Team Desperate chemistry. There was a moment when I’m sure they both thought they were going to get a shag in, but the moment was stolen and it never came back. Which I think is a good thing - you should never find out if God has a sock drawer. Angelica Celaya was amazing in this - this is the challenge that John needs, this is the draw of the series, this is the interesting wrinkle in Manny’s plan to get John to stop the ‘rising darkness’. Zed and her one-woman clairsentient\psychic intervention is about to shake things up for everyone. And I couldn’t be more glad. If the pilot episode was wobbly, then this episode has caused it to find its feet. The emergence of Zed, and all that this means for John and even Chas, can only improve on what is a solid start to a series.

Final vote? Nine out of ten. It may have been reshuffled to get shown second and not third, but I think it worked. If this is what we’ve got to look forward to (and I know we have), then bring it on. Can I just watch the next episode now instead of next week? No? I have to wait? Oh alright then. If I could sod work off and watch the entire series over night, I would. Unfortunately, I have shit to do before I can sleep and then go back to work.

Which brings this to a close. Thanks for reading, and if you’ve taken part in any of the Save Constantine activities at all recently or repeatedly, then I thank you from the heart of my bottom. We need a season 2, and I’m not stopping with the voting and petitioning and e-mailing until we get one, on any network.

Peach and lube, everyone. Peach and frelling lube.



New Fic Alert



Yeah, it was always on the horizon, wasn't it? Well here we go, anyway. Enjoy.

Title: Happy Families

Rating: Rated T\Teen and Up for fights, a bit of blood, suggestive suggestions of suggestiveness and John’s swearing.

Summary:
A case brings itself to the mill house and John, Chas and Zed are thrown up against demons, corporations, their own instincts and even Spanish. Special guest appearance by Manny. Set just after episode 10, Saint of Last Resorts part 2, so contains spoilery references. Episodicly canontastic.

Disclaimer: 
I do not own Constantine or any of the characters (if I did, they’d get as many seasons as Supernatural, and there’d be more Hellblazer and less New 52). I DO NOT condone smoking anything in any form. This is all for fun, not for profit. Unless you add me to any favourites lists or leave comments. Then I profit in the knowledge that someone thinks it’s pretty good.

Characters: John Constantine, Zed Martin, Chas Chandler, an OC or few and Manny. Demons, witches, some bodily damage and hurt/comfort.

Linky-link-link: HERE at An Archive of Our Own under my name TozaBoma (because they don’t re-edit your stuff later) and HERE at Fanfiction dot net under my name Mardy Lass.

If you even visit the page, I thank you.


Constantine: Non Est Asylum



Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!
Here be SPOILERS for Constantine series 1 episode 1!



If you know me in real life, you’ll know that all I’ve banged on about since before Christmas is Constantine. I’ve even found time to yak about it on this blog. However, since NBC hasn’t yet made up its mind whether we get a season two or not, I’m having to rewatch season one. Not that there’s anything wrong with reliving one of my all-time favourite shows, but I’d rather have a new season to obsess over, rather than only having the past to go over. It’s just how I am. (Having said that, this will be the third time I’ve seen season one in its entirety. Don’t judge me. I’m out of Hellblazer comics.)

If you know me solely from this blog, you’ll know that I do a film review now and again. And when I do, I keep it to three choice words to sum the movie up. So guess what’s going to happen next? Oh yes, my friends - it’s on like Donkey Kong. I will start from the pilot of Constantine, and go all the way through all thirteen episodes, reviewing each one using three headings, because I have OCD about getting things in a logical order (you can thank years of watching my honorary granddad on TV for that. Leonard Nimoy, you are already missed).



Hold my vodka whilst I type; here we go with season one, episode one: ‘Non Est Asylum’.

Voice

We have a triple win here; we have the voice\tone of the episode, which is busy treading a fine line between humour (granted, it’s so dark it’s just the right kind of cynical plea for help) and showing us something in a show that we haven’t seen so far. Modern telly is full of dark, edgy, gritty or seriously scary stuff, but Constantine feels different to me in the same way that The Dresden Files was different; this isn’t the CIA or a band of rebels surviving against zombies. It’s not playing at taking the Iron Throne and it’s not procedural police work. This episode was about showing demons as inaccessible, ugly things. Other shows might make their demons use meatsuits (partly because there’s negligible CGI or effects involved), but this show makes them out to be beasts from the Pit, who occasionally put on a party frock in the shape of a human to prove a point, not to conceal what they look like.

We have the voice of the narrator, the ‘tell’ supplementing the onscreen ‘show’ - a gimic taken from Hellblazer. It’s either pulling you out of the moment by interrupting the feel of the scene, or it’s adding to the atmosphere when the story is on the big screen rather than in the comic. Either way it works for me; John was forever narrating his own cock-ups or victories, in his own style. It might have been weird not to hear his voice adding his two bob.

This brings us to the voice of John - or rather, the accent of John. Mostly soft Liverpudlian (severely toned down for an international market), we have Matt Ryan’s own Welsh creeping in to soften it even further. This is probably not upsetting the American market at all, whilst back in Blighty, it’s making a few people scratch their heads. Bah whizzers on them guys - I say go with it. It’s enough that they didn’t change John to being from flaming London - it’s about time shows realised that’s not the only place in England, let alone the UK. So far we’ve got a good undercurrent to the show, in large part to the skittish energy and pent-up rage that is John, and I don’t think it would work if Ryan has been told to use a generic Doctor Ten voice. His deep-seated pissed-off-ness only seems to come out when he’s at his most northern, which makes Manny the angel an omnipotent, sanctimonious counter-point to that. It works brilliantly. The clash between the two of them in the smoking crater that used to be a car park is a fine example of bloody good modern drama - or should that be thriller? Manny being mysterious and smug, and John being distinctly unimpressed and gobby was ace.

Fitting

The single forty-odd minutes we got in the pilot (reshot, apparently) was enough to convince me that, whilst this episode was a little wobbly at times, it had magnificent potential. It had the same down-played cynicism and unexpected wit of some early Hellblazer comics, combined with some fresh faces and some mystery to carry the series forward. Although Chas was used sparingly, John did manage to bring his ‘stop all this bollocks’ perspective to it, and even the parts where wide-eyed Liv made me think this was tipping into ‘harmless’ Supernatural territory were saved in the end. Yes, they decided to ditch Liv’s story in favour of another direction, and while I feel a little mean saying this, I agreed whole-heartedly. I really did not fancy her hanging around to simply be a Companion in time and space to John’s Doctor. It’s really not that kind of show, and her character was not written to give us the kind of dynamic that Hellblazer was famous for. What we needed was someone who would challenge John and kick him into doing what he knew he should but didn’t want to; Liv was someone who would have done whatever she was told, and the momentary rebellion she would have felt would have been too easily quashed by a stern word from John. Not challenging at all. It’s almost as if the character of Liv was set up to fail. I do think Lucy Griffiths has a long career ahead of her, and even though Liv is gone, Lucy will be back across many networks, I’m sure.

Fitting, though, was Chas. Suddenly twenty feet tall and a lot less lippy than the comics, he nevertheless had the same kind of daffy helpfulness about him. Hellblazer!Chas was forever telling John to fuck off out of his taxi and stop bringing trouble to his doorstep (except that time with Geraldine), only to fold and call him weeks later when he missed his mate. Constantine!Chas has the (equivalent) taxi and a slightly nervous allegiance to John, but he’s drawn quite a different line in the sand when it comes to taking John’s shit. This actually works well for me. It might have been fun to have a show where the lead who successfully battles demons from the lowest circles of Hell is constantly getting his arse handed to him by his best mate for something as trivial as lighting up in the back of his cab, but the joke would wear thin quite fast - and John’s supposed to be a shady, dangerous fucker. Fitting, then, that this side of him came out when John confronted his old pal Ritchie, and realised how he was too scared to risk getting close to him to even get out of the room. John uses this to his advantage as he threatens to give him to the police back in England for what went down in Newcastle. Hellblazer!John would have done, without question - but would Constantine!John? I liked the scene - it rang true from a Hellblazer perspective, and it brought a lot of personality conflict to Constantine!John. He was getting more and more interesting from a character point of view, considering I was worried we’d get a watered-down version of Hellblazer!John. Of course, at this stage you’re not convinced he would actually do that to Ritchie. But the moment when you realise that yes, of course he bloody would, comes much later - when he gets a tiny whiff of the chance to save wee Astra, and pretty much runs behind Liv to shove her under the bus so fast she would have got whiplash. The moment demon!John, A.K.A Furcifer the demon (a nice touch, and well done by both the production team and Matt Ryan) brings back Astra we see John peeled raw. We see how close John’s emotions are to the surface, and also that he won’t make that mistake again, of letting people see them. Another wonderful scene from Matt Ryan - another case of hiring someone over-qualified for a role and finding everyone is perfectly ok with that.

Satisfying

How many other people can say “I’ll drive your demons away - kick ’em in the bollocks and spit on them when they’re down” and have you believe them? Ok, so telly is replete with leads, male and female now, who are ‘tough’ and ‘badass’ and ‘cool’. But Constantine!John is the same as Hellblazer!John here - he’s just a cocky little shit who’s trying to get away with doing as little as possible. And everyone knows that one example of scaring the shit out of people with the slightest of hands goes a long way toward building a gigantic reputation for giant-slaying. There again, that’s the impression he gives off, but those who’ve seen a few episodes in know that it covers the ruthless, determined side of Hellblazer!John that would set his own grandma on fire if it achieved a win for The Greater Good - and by that I mean Hellblazer!John. Right from the get-go there were many satisfying touches to Constantine!John, and the way they came about were well done, too. There was his confrontation with Manny, when they first meet, and John taking a look at his wings and telling him with (what should be) a patented sneer to “flap off”. Nice - and very Hellblazer. Later, again, he gives him a hard time: “There’s a fine line between ‘watching over’ and ‘stalking’,” and he’d rather vent all his fury into the angel’s face in the pouring rain than ask for help. Matt Ryan is a deceptively slight powder keg of anger and cynical wit, and the director uses it to everyone’s advantage. Where Harold Perrineau plays a perfect angel - supercilious, smug, angelically annoying, intriguing - the mini face-off is a wonderful promise of edgy scenes to come. The episode may have had some off-kilter moments, but it really did deliver the big scenes that easily added up to me putting this series to the priority of my week.

And just to remind us that this was going to be a dark series that could do creepy with the best of them, we got some good old fashioned jumps (the eye on the friend’s laptop), some knee-jerk shock-horror moments (the possessed body in the coroner’s bag - especially when it escapes), and some foreshadowing that was so subtle you’d miss it if you blinked (the flash of ‘dev’ on the wall when most of the lights went out in what was left of Liv’s place of work). There were ironic touches - a punk version of Ring of Fire (by Social Distortion) plays on the radio in Chas’ cab; the similarity between John’s dad calling him ‘Killer’ all of his life to the fact that demon!John tells him that he’s waiting for John to bring Hell a constant supply of fresh souls - because everyone who stands with him dies. It would be grimdark enough to make me less enthusiastic about watching it - but there’s Hellblazer!John, sticking two metaphorical fingers up at the darkness and spitting out a witty comeback or offensive one-liner sheerly to lighten his own mood (Guard: “It’s not screwed into anything.” John: “Neither am I, mate.” Demon!John: “How does it feel, Constantine, to lock eyes with your future?” John: “It’s a bit unsettling to be honest, mate. It’s not my best look.”)

As the episode ends, we see a clever meta-moment as John’s actions are transmuted into a comic book tableau. Just as you’re thinking, ah, I see what they did there, the camera pans back to reveal that someone is sitting on the floor, busily whipping up a hundred charcoal sketches of famous Hellblazer covers. That alone got me excited - who was this bird, what was she doing sketching comic covers and famous panes, and how were we going to meet her? That, coupled with John’s cynical resignation of all things that kick him up the arse, made me more than ready to see what happened the next week. A few nights after I saw this episode, I watched it again, and noticed touches that had gone over my head the first time. It’s a good job it was available on the site for so long, so I could stream it over and over.

So. Three titles done, an episode pulled to pieces and over-analysed. What conclusion have I come to? That it was worth the effort, and so was this review. I would happily give this episode eight out of ten; the little moments, the acting, the will to go outside the usual Warner Brothers entertainment model - they all outweighed any shaky casting for me. Eight out of ten and a big smile, caused by the anticipation of what was to come. And you can’t say fairer than that.

And on that note, I’ll leave it there. Part of me really wants to do episode two right sodding now, but most of me really needs to sleep before work tomorrow. Peach and lube, everyone. Peach and frelling lube.

Constantine < Hellblazer?





Back in the dim and distant, I had a few issues of Hellblazer. To be honest, I was too young for them. Not in the don’t look at the nudity and smoking and blood and slashy knives and naughty words kind of way, but in an I don’t get it kind of way. I was barely twenty, and the comic was just about four years old at this stage. I wasn’t ready.

Skip to about... Ooh, five years ago. I happened to catch sight of a cover to Hellblazer #300 (the last ongoing issue) on Tinternet. And I thought, wait a tick, that bloke looks familiar. It wasn’t till a while later that I realised it was the end to something I had started long before.

Skip to last year. I was doing the Thursday Shop, otherwise known as Comics Wednesday in the States. (With the time zone as it is, I shop for new comics on a Thursday.) What do I see? A new collection of the first nine issues of Hellblazer, which may or may not be considered Jamie Delano’s best work for the title. He did pretty much invent it, off the back of an arc in the Swamp Thing.

I was older, I was more cynical, I was deep into comics and constantly looking for ‘new’. Bored of the usual straight white American dude saving the world, my weekly Thursday Shop consisted of titles like Saga, NextWave, Captain Marvel, Trillium, Young Avengers, and the like. Faced in this climate with the prospect of finally getting to grips with John Constantine, I thought I might as well.

It’d be more accurate to say that John Constantine got to grips with me. The sweeping story arcs, the way he was so down-to-Earth Scouse, the one-liners that covered a desperate lurch for salvation, the constant threat of losing everything if he just let the facade slip enough for people to realise he didn’t actually have all the answers; it was intoxicating. I went through nothing less than five issues in a sitting. Sod work and getting back late from a lunch break - there were literally hundreds of issues on my iPad, goddammit, and John wasn’t going to read himself (except that one time with Ellie and the priest with the talking door).



As poor John lurched from one skin of the teeth pyrrhic victory to the next, I slowly fell in love with the comic. So many issues, so many artists, so many writers, so many subtle differences in how they saw his character - there was a never-ending Pandora’s Box of adventures. Once it was opened, and I ripped through three hundred issues, I realised that one thing had indeed been trapped inside: Hope. All I wanted was to believe that there was more, that what transpired in Hellblazer #300 (the last scene of which I still debate), was not the end. It couldn’t be, right? There had to be more.

I found graphic novels. I found specials. I found DC’s attempt to fit him into their Justice League line-up. Sadly, for me, these DCverse comics were just not right. They did not gel. It was the fact that John was no longer the focus of the book - now it was him against a pantheon of DC people, set against DC places and names. Gone were my trips to Liverpool, or Australia, or Northern Ireland. Gone were my Kit, Epiphany, Gemma. In their places were things I did not know because they were not of Hellblazer; the comics took me twice as long to read, as I spent equal parts reading the comic, and searching Wikipedia to find out who the apparently famous person was that John was up against. It became a chore - like their New 52 Constantine title. It wasn't John; it was a shiny ret-conned blonde bloke who occasionally talked like him, but shared none of the actual real secret of magic with him at all.

It was not my John.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Let me just say in my defence: my favourite Doctors are Two, Five, Nine, Ten, and the beginnings of Eleven. It’s true that I have turned my back on New Who, but that is not down to the change in actor or personality, it’s down to my hate-hate relationship with Steven Moffat’s writing. I like Star Trek the original series and The Next Generation, while my first love is DS9. I liked the 2009 reboot of Star Trek (Into Darkness not so much), because in my head it was a compromise - if you liked the original and not the reboot, the original had not been overwritten. Conversely, if you like the reboot but had tried to watch the original but not liked it, you still had your own version that did not overwrite the original. That’s why I’m perfectly fine with Into Darkness failing on a lot of levels; Wrath of Khan still happened (and is still better), just in the other timeline. Long and short: I like change. Change is good - mostly.

So back to John Constantine.

Still reeling from the ending of Hellblazer, and finding that there were no more issues, I heard a rumour that Warner Brothers were looking at making a TV series called Constantine. I was intrigued. Then I was worried; would they be able to pull off some of the storylines from Hellblazer? Were they even going to bother? And who the bloody hell were they going to get to play John? Because if it was another Keanu Reeves, pretending to be English or not, then I was definitely out.

Skip to late last year. I had seen new series come along - caught up with Game of Thrones, tried watching The Flash (no-go - who wants yet another secret identity secretly in love with his best friend but can’t tell her oh and did I mention they stuffed his mother in a fridge to give him daddy issues about rescuing him from prison? Blah blah blah.), tried Arrow (yeesh - but I have been told to ignore season one and head straight to season two. Seeing as I stuck with it for about seven episodes and then decided I was done torturing myself, I don’t know if I’ll bother) and Forever (really good, but in such a nice quiet way, it’s sure to get cancelled). Gotham started, and I’ve enjoyed that more and more. Agents of SHIELD continues to improve, so I’m glad I stuck with that one. Supernatural has come back with a triumphant tenth season, which I’m still addicted to and still enjoying. So what was I going to get with Constantine?

Firstly, the pilot was pretty bloody shaky. I’m glad that they decided to drop the companion-cum-storyline there and go with Zed a few episodes later. However, two things struck me from the outset: one, they’d picked a winner with Matt Ryan, and two, they weren’t going to shy away from certain subject matter, even on their timeslot.

I was intrigued. They even went with one of the best story arcs from Hellblazer a few episodes later in the form of Gary Lester and the hunger demon. It was racking up to be a vast improvement, but pretty much nothing was going to stop me watching it once I’d got used to John’s somewhat clean trenchcoat (part of me is begging them to do a version of The Devil’s Trenchcoat story arc. I would die happy). They were making it a little darker without sacrificing colour; where Supernatural tends to bleed the colour out and whack up the contrast, Constantine is all about colour and bright spillage of blood and make-up. One thing I do like is the cinematography and the way the editing is handled. A lot of gore is performed offscreen for your imagination, and even if it just to get round the programming rules, it’s still a neat way for you to get your gore on without getting taken off the air. They may have changed a few elements about the characters - I thought Chas was darker in the comics, and obviously his penchant for Jack Harkness’ing his way out of permanent death is a new one. But hey, they’re rolling with it and they’re making it more interesting. Take Zed Martin, for instance. Not the bird we were given in Hellblazer, past her ‘gifted’ roots and her talents, but definitely a change for the better. They’ve developed a women on screen who, one, is not white, two, is not dependant on anybody, and three, can literally take care of herself, despite hiding that side of herself. Her attitude and the fact that she’s a capable character, instead of being just a hanger-on or a sidekick, makes me watch for her - the woman with her own life and agenda - as much as for John. Try saying that about any other series.

AngĂ©lica Celaya, then, should be headed for big things. When this series is cancelled, as inevitably all good shows are by large networks who worry too much about instant ratings gratification and not enough about long-term merchandising rights and blu-ray sales, then I look forward to seeing what she does next. Charlie Halberd, the ever-present Chas, is also going to become a staple of US TV, I hope. Harold Perrineau, as the argie-bargie angel Manny, already has a long list of telly credits under his belt (not least of all the wonderfully sublime The Unusuals), but I know he’ll be back.

Matt Ryan, though. He’s the best not-John that ever John’d. They may have had to bleach his hair and they haven’t bothered covering up his own tatts, but he fills John’s shoes like they were made for him. He was seven years old when Hellblazer first started, but that hasn’t stopped him from apparently being told by his comic-shop-owner-mate that if he gets John wrong, he runs the risk of not waking up the next day. He seems to have taken it to heart - the swagger to his walk, the shoulders that pin themselves back when he’s about to cast a spell, the sneaking-in of the network-forbidden cigarettes, the borderline dodgy/creepy look he gives people when he’s working through how to get out of the jam he’s in - he is to John Constantine what David Tennant was to the Doctor for many people. When I go back to read Hellblazer comics now? Yep - he sounds like Matt Ryan’s soft Scouse / hint of his own Welsh.

One thing I will say is that he’s Shakespeare trained. So when you ask him to act like he’s possessed by a demon and just wants to terrorise and hurt people, then that’s what you get. He is a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin kind of actor. He puts his back into every scene he’s got without having to chew scenery, often accomplishing more with a single shifty look than lines of dialogue. I cannot stress enough how much he deserves an Emmy for his performance in episode nine’s ‘Saint of Last Resorts, part 2’.

The episodes themselves do not back down: you will see kids possessed and people in the wrong place at the wrong time dying, and other people scammed into a plot twist you didn’t see coming. You will get more bodily fluids than a Farscape snot-fest. You will get John giving people lip (apparently insults like ‘wanker’ and ‘tosser’ and ‘pile of wank’ get past US censors. It makes me wonder if they know what they mean), you will get Angry!John raging at people, and Zed being quietly amazing, and Chas just trying to hold everything together. You’ll probably enjoy it, too.



Understandably, I’m upset that it’s going to get cancelled. We can vote online and petition and beg and make noise about this show as much as we like, but I know it’s going to get cancelled. Because the good shows always are. I will still keep making noise and telling NBC how much I want the show to continue, but seeing as all they look at is instant ratings, I have my doubts about it working.

My parting shot? Watch this show. Watch it before it disappears. You’ll be glad you did.